One of our favorite pizza joints is undergoing a renovation. We love this place. We could walk in, sit down and not even have to say anything. Rose, Ali and everyone else would just know.

It’s one of at least two stores in this local chain built in an old gas station. Part of the charm of these two restaurants was the quirkiness that came from stuffing a pizza n’ beer eatery into a service station: tables in the service bay with a thin veneer of decor (adeptly seasoned by everything ever cooked there), the funky traffic flow inside and the bathrooms outside.

The other ex-gas station restaurant we frequented was abandoned and a shiny new one built in a somewhat post-modern Italianate concrete box with elaborate landscaping. Inside  is the  most sound wave-richocheting interior that could be conceived. The food has never been the same.

We’re hoping for a better outcome for this restaurant, but have already learned that at least one of the well-seasoned ovens won’t be making the change over. It was so old, repair parts can’t be found.


6-27 US Pizza inside
One last look. The view from our favorite table.

Pizza: the quest

Finding foods from the homeland, or food that tastes like the stuff you grew up with but can’t duplicate in your own kitchen, is an endless quest. For our family, that culinary holy grail is finding a pie that tastes like it came from the ovens of the Star Tavern in Orange, N.J., or the Starlite in West Orange, N.J.  Pizza, cheese only, was a meatless Friday tradition in our house.

Among Jerseyans and New Yorkers, there is always discussion about whose neighborhood joint makes the best tomato pie. When Jerseyans and New Yorkers are separated from their home soil, wherever they congregate, the discussion inevitably evolves into what place comes closest to making the perfect pie of their memories.  For us, it’s that mysterious combination of  sauce, cheese and crust with burnt spots, all imbued with that taste that only a half-century or older oven can make. (One final test is whether or not there is “pizza juice” that runs out over the crust and anoints the paper plate as the pointed end of the slice is lifted to the lips.)

In San Diego, Bronx Pizza [Motto: “Just like back home.”] is one of those places whose name is whispered in hallowed tones among former New Jerseyans and New Yorkers.  At lunchtime, the kitchen moved fast, and the line of customers did too.

TOMATO PIE -- Ready to eat.
PIZZA DRESSING -- No pizzeria table is properly set without parmesan and red pepper. Oregano at table is a plus.
SLICES TO GO -- Counter offers a bevy of choices for the two-slices-and-a-coke-to-go crowd. (Note: In the South, "coke" is a generic term for all carbonated soft drinks. Don't call it "soda," and please don't call it a "pop" unless you're using it to wash down a salted nut roll or lefse.)